We have a new national sport in 2011. This new sport is politician bashing. Polls show job approval ratings in the low teens for Congress. Everyone is disgusted with the levels of partisanship in Washington. Everyone thinks they're all crooks with their hands in the pockets of special interests. There is frustration over gridlock and the inability of our leaders to get anything substantive done, whether it's addressing our fiscal problems or dealing with the moribund economy.
I don't disagree with these sentiments. But as an engineer, I instinctively think in terms of finding root cause. There is a technique called "five why" where you keep asking "why" something is wrong until you can't go any further - and then you have the real problem.
In that spirit, I think we need to step back and look in the mirror. That's where we will find the root cause of our problems. There is not a single representative in Congress that was not elected by We, the People. We, collectively, chose the leaders we have. If they aren't doing their jobs, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
The ultimate root cause of political dysfunction in America is our failure to collectively do what the leaders of Utah's predominant religion has counseled for years: to carefully and prayerfully study the candidates and vote accordingly.
One example of our collective failure as citizens stands out. Despite the complaining, there is one group of representatives in Congress that has a pretty good track record of accomplishments. They have a well-earned reputation of working with all sides to develop consensus, commonsense solutions to problems. The group of which I speak was warning about deficit spending and preaching fiscal sanity before it was cool. You know, back during the days of the Bush Administration when Rob Bishop was pooh-poohing the deficit, claiming no tough choices were needed because the miracle of Republican economic policies would somehow magically result in balanced budgets.
I'm speaking of the Blue Dog Democrats in the House, whose members include Utah's own Jim Matheson and national heroine Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. This caucus of moderate Democrats eschews rigid political ideology, often votes against their leadership, and generally is mainly interested in what works. Given recent polls, they seem to be just what America wants in Washington.
So how did the Blue Dogs fare in the 2010 election? We, collectively, fired about half of their 47 members, in favor of Tea Party ideologues. In retrospect, was this wise?
Democrats like to blame the Tea Party Republicans for the brinksmanship and nastiness in Washington. But they're just doing what they promised to do. True, their campaign rhetoric was long on populist-sounding generalities and short on specifics, but no one can say we weren't warned. The problem, which has been extensively documented, is that Americans collectively like government services like Social Security, Medicare, safe food and drugs, good schools, etc., but we don't want to pay for them. We allow the politicians to perpetrate the unspoken lie that there is some unspecified "waste" that, if eliminated, will balance the nation's books without sacrifice. We're collectively too uninformed and too susceptible to emotional campaign rhetoric that isn't backed up by facts.
Some blame the influence of special interests for poisoning our politics. But that is only true because We, the People allow it. Special interests don't pull the lever in the voting booth. We do.
Tea partiers talked about "taking back our country" in the 2010 election, but it is clear most Americans are having buyer's remorse. If we really want to take back our country, I have a suggestion. Let's have voters in blue states elect more moderate Republicans like Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. Voters in red states would elect more moderate Democrats like Jim Matheson. Think of outcome. There would be less partisanship, more cooperation, and more commonsense solutions. Most importantly, rigid ideology would be replaced by honesty. Politicians wouldn't have the incentive to hide facts that disagreed with their unyielding political dogmas.
Could this actually happen? Could the silent majority out there ignore the partisan rhetoric and special interest money, take their responsibilities seriously, and vote in a new breed of statesmen who could work together in a spirit of cooperation and pragmatism to solve our nation's pressing problems?
To paraphrase John Lennon: You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one. At the end of the day, it's our choice.
Olsen, head of the Weber County Democrats, lives in Plain City.